12 years ago, I woke up to a beautiful day. The temperature was cool, no breeze and the sky was as blue as I had ever seen it. It’s what we in aviation call Clear and a Million, skies so clear you can see a million miles. I remember looking out the window and thinking God doesn’t make days more perfect than this. I was looking forward to going to my job at Metro Airport and spending that perfect day outside with the airplanes. I turned on the Today show to see what was going on in the world and there was a commercial on. I settled on the bed, thought about a cup of coffee when the show came back on with an image of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York with a hole in the side and smoke and flames shooting out. The initial story was that a small plane had hit the tower and immediately the questions started. How did this happen on a day that was “Clear and a Million”? How is it possible a plane was that close to the towers? Did the pilot have a medical issue that caused the crash? Perhaps Air Traffic Control had given a bad routing or maybe the pilot lost radio contact. How many people were in the tower?
I got on the phone and called my friend. “Hey did you hear? A plane hit the World Trade Center! That guy must have been drunk!” I exclaimed. She said she had not heard but she was just getting settled in the office. As I described the images on my TV, another plane came into view. I described how there was “another plane and it was flying…you know it looks like…it’s heading to…OH NO…that plane hit the other tower of the World Trade Center”. Something was going on. Something crazy was happening. My friend said she couldn’t get on the internet but she was going to try to get some TV reception. Before she put the phone down there was word of an explosion at the Pentagon and people were running from the building. We knew something was horribly wrong.
My husband (well we weren’t married at the time) was a fearless man. He feared no man, no thing. When he came into the room and asked what was going on, the look on his face and in his eyes told me it was time to be frightened. I told him I didn’t know but it looked like an attack on our country. My friend came back to the phone after she got the TV working and he told me to stay on the phone with her until her boss got there. For the next hour we sat in silence as we watched the TV coverage go from New York to Washington. We heard the words Terrorist Attack for the first time. We spoke no words as the towers came down and we listened in horror to reports of a 4th plane being hijacked and later crashing in Pennsylvania.
We were stunned by the images of people jumping from windows of the World Trade Center because they had no other choice, people who were burned and injured, Firefighters covered in debris and ash and we started to hear the names of people who were in the towers and on the flights. Father Michael Judge was the first person to perish in the towers and be recovered. Schoolchildren on a trip to Los Angeles were on the plane that went into the Pentagon. Others on the 4 planes included a former news analyst, business people, families, pilots, flight attendants, newlyweds and soon to be parents. Cantor Fitzgerald, Aon Consulting, Marsh and McClennan, Windows on the World and Port Authority became household names. We spent the day watching as photos of the missing began to be posted and we cried with distraught families as they searched for loved ones. No one was immune from the grief of the day. It wasn’t just Americans killed, it was people from all over the world. Even if you didn’t know anyone personally, there was probably someone from your town, your city, your county, your state or country who was killed.
We felt the pain as we listened to phone conversations and voicemail messages ”I’m on a Plane that has been Hijacked”, “Good Bye”, “I Love You”, “Take Care of the Family”, “Have a Wonderful Life”, “Tell the Children I Love Them”, “I Love You Mom and Dad” .
By the end of the day we heard that almost 3,000 people left their homes, families, friends and loved ones never to return. The world we knew a few hours earlier had changed forever.
And from the darkness that overtook that perfect day, we cheered the determination of a plane full of passengers who refused to sit by and let the terrorists have their way. We cheered Firefighters and Police Officers who came together to search for loved ones and brothers in arms.
Our parents and grandparents always remembered December 7, 1941. For this generation September 11, 2001 will be our day that lives in infamy.